Research and Funding

Office of Special Populations

Overview of the Office of Special Populations

Health disparities are associated with a broad, complex, and interrelated array of factors.  Diagnosis, progression, response to treatment, caregiving, and overall quality of life may each be affected by race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), age, education, occupation, and other as yet unknown lifetime and lifestyle differences.  For example, a multi-ethnic epidemiologic study indicated that prevalence rates for Alzheimer’s disease may be higher for African Americans and Hispanics than for other ethnic groups.  Another study found a striking relationship between SES and health and longevity.  Gender differences in health and longevity are observed across racial and ethnic groups.  We must first understand these differences and their interactions and then work to develop behavioral and public health interventions to reduce disparities and increase quality of life for all of our older citizens. 

NIA objectives in this area include:

  • Understand health differences and health inequities associated with race, ethnicity, gender, environment, socioeconomic status (SES), geography, access, and sociocultural factors among older adults.
  • Develop strategies to promote active life expectancy and improve the health status of older adults in minority and other underserved populations. 
  • Use research insights and advances to inform policy on the health, economic status, and quality of life of all older adults.

Minority aging and health disparity research is conducted throughout the Institute’s research programs.  For example:

  • Satellite Diagnostic and Treatment Centers, part of the national Alzheimer’s Disease Centers (ADC) Program, have successfully recruited African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and American Indian/Alaska Natives to AD prevention and treatment studies. 
  • NIA’s participation in an R03 Grant Program specifically invites researchers to submit grant applications that address access to participation in research for populations such as: those under-represented in biomedical and clinical research of U.S. minority populations, underserved populations, and populations who may be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence; barriers to participation  and potential approaches to overcome these; as well as Conducting biomedical and clinical research in resource-limited countries.
  • The NIA supports several specific programs to assist in the development of research careers for minority investigators whose research topics are relevant to the NIA mission.  These include dissertation awards for minority doctoral students and awards to institutions hoping to increase numbers of students from underrepresented populations.

For more information, see the NIA Health Disparities Strategic Plan.